By John P. Walsh
The Third Impressionist Exhibition in April 1877 is known as “Caillebotte’s Exhibition.” It is the highlight of the eight Impressionist exhibitions held between 1874 and 1886. While scholars agree that the Third Impressionist Exhibition was in every sense “glorious,” the show’s initial euphoria was short lived. Just two weeks after the show closed, when hopes for picture sales continued to be high, a Constitutional crisis in the French government led to consolidation of Republican power against Royalists and a national economic recession ensued. The Impressionist group, carefully built to a unity by Caillebotte, resorted to squabbling as each artist jostled for survival in a receding financial tide.
Gustave Caillebotte’s efforts for a fourth Impressionist exhibition in 1878 were stymied. The next exhibitions would be under Degas’s rule. In 1879 Degas would exclude Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Alfred Sisley and, in 1880, Claude Monet. For Caillebotte whose brand for the 1877 exhibition was based on “broken brush” impressionists the irony was not lost on him as he worked on the next impressionist shows with Degas and an artistic coterie that excluded them. By 1881 Caillebotte had had enough of the artistic partisanship and before the opening of the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in that year he departed the Degas-led organization.
Caillebotte’s retirement was a short one. Soon the 32-year-old Caillebotte was promoting a retro-style vision for an exhibition in 1882. He promoted his vision tirelessly to his obvious partner, Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922). But the previous seven years had taken a financial toll on the 51-year-old art dealer who re-tooled his business plan to focus on small shows of individual artists. The French economy had sunk into hard times and big shows cost more money, although by 1882 there was sufficient expectation to make a small profit from this one. Following the disastrous Hôtel Drouot auction in 1875—and Durand-Ruel believed it was a sour attempt to discredit him as an avant-garde art dealer—the over-stocked Impressionist art dealer proved reluctant but finally willing to go forward with Caillebotte’s “old school” exhibition plan.
The main hook was to re-integrate the up-to-now excluded “broken brush” or “strict” impressionists including Renoir and Claude Monet. Caillebotte’s first move was to secure the popular Renoir for the upcoming March 1882 show. Renoir sent his new, large-format A Luncheon at Bougival (Un déjeuner à Bougival) and 23 other new works. Degas and his faction of artists including Mary Cassatt and Paul Gauguin stayed away from this seventh Impressionist show. Durand-Ruel insisted on a standardized presentation, including simple white frames for every work. In addition to Monet and Renoir, this show hailed the triumphant return for Alfred Sisley. The artist of Aix, Paul Cézanne, was off experimenting and would not be seen in another Paris art show until 1895.
Caillebotte sent 17 works to his show. The Bezique Game (Partie de bésigue) painted in 1880, was joined by Rising Road (Chemin Montant) painted in 1881. This latter work’s path hardly rises—a feature that contributed to the canvas’s mystery. Is it a reprise of the “enhanced perspective” that aggravated critics when they saw it in his The Floor Scrapers of 1875? Rising Road is painted in the loose brushwork idiom with the free handling of colors as practiced by Monet and Renoir whose closer re-acquaintance Caillebotte was making. The mystery deepens as to who is “the conjugal couple…seen from the back” as one critic poked fun at them. Both couple and their location are unknown. It is conjectured that the viewer is looking at Caillebotte with his lifelong companion Charlotte Berthier. Rising Road (Chemin Montant) which has had only two owners since 1881 sold for nearly $7 million ($6,727,500) in a 2003 sale at Christie’s in New York City,
SOURCES: Charles S. Moffett, The New Painting, 1986; Anne Distel, Urban Impressionist, 1995; http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=4181485
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